Ram Navami violence: SC dismisses WB govt’s plea against HC order handing over probe to NIA

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a plea by the West Bengal government challenging the Calcutta High Court order handing over the probe of incidents of violence in March and April this year during Ram Navami celebrations in the state to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud noted the validity of notification issued in May by the Centre under section 6(5) of the NIA Act has not been challenged in the matter.

Section 6 (5) of the NIA Act says if the central government is of the opinion that a scheduled offence has been committed which is required to be investigated under this Act, it may, suo motu (on its own), direct the agency to investigate it.

The bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, observed that at this stage, the court is not called upon to either decide on the sufficiency of the allegations or their veracity.

“The remit of this court would be to determine as to whether exercise of its jurisdiction by the Central government under section 6 (5) is so completely extraneous to the powers conferred upon it by section 6 (5) so as to warrant intervention by this court,” the bench said.

It said the precise contours of the investigation which should be carried out by the NIA cannot be anticipated or restricted at this stage.

“In this backdrop and, particularly, in the absence of a challenge to the validity of the notification issued under section 6 (5), we are not inclined to entertain the SLP (Special Leave Petition),” the bench said.

It clarified that the observations made by the high court in its April 27 order should be confined to the question as to whether the exercise of jurisdiction by the NIA under the special statute was warranted.

The West Bengal government had assailed the high court order transferring the probe to the NIA, saying no explosives were used and the direction was passed on a “politically-motivated” PIL filed by the leader of the opposition in the state assembly Suvendu Adhikari.

On April 27, the high court had ordered a probe by the NIA into the incidents of violence at Shibpur in Howrah and Rishra in Hooghly districts during and after the Ram Navami celebrations.

The high court order was passed on a PIL by Adhikari and three other petitions seeking an NIA probe into the violence at these two places.

In its order, the apex court said six FIRs were registered by the state police in connection with the violence.

It noted the submissions advanced by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranaraynan, who appeared for West Bengal, that the state police had duly acted following the alleged incidents which took place during the Ram Navami celebrations, and so the high court direction for transfer of probe to the NIA was not warranted and would demoralise the police.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the NIA, said on the last date of hearing the apex court had asked the probe agency to examine how many of of the six FIRs had reference to the Explosive Substances Act. He said two of the six FIRs have reference to the Act.

” Out of six when there are two FIRs where Explosive Substances Act is invoked and they pertain to the very same area, the possibility of this being a part of the chain of the same transaction cannot be ruled out ,” Mehta said.

He said despite the apex court not staying the high court order, “they (state government) have granted stay to themselves.”

“We have been requesting them, we have been requesting the court also that we are under a mandamus of the high court, transfer the papers at least, we have not being supplied with the papers also,” he said during the arguments.

While hearing the matter on July 17, the apex court had sought to know whether the six FIRs, which were lodged by the state police, relate to the same incident.

On May 19, the apex court had refused to stay the high court order handing over the investigation to the NIA.

The anti-terror probe agency has registered a case following the high court order.

During the hearing on May 19, senior advocates Abhishek Singhvi and Gopal Sankaranaraynan, both representing the West Bengal government, had said the high court had in its order referred to only one FIR related to the Chandan Nagar incident.

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“We have instructions that the court may allow the probe of Chandan Nagar FIR to be done by NIA but rest five FIRs be allowed to be investigated by the state police,” Sankaranaraynan had said.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and PS Patwalia, appearing for top state BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, had said the NIA has registered a case and, even if the high court order is stayed, the investigation will go on.

The high court had directed the state police to ensure all FIRs, documents, material seized and CCTV footage were handed over to the NIA within two weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of the order.

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